The other day I had lunch with a pastor friend from a church other than the one I attend. He asked me an important question, something like the one that follows here. This isn’t quite what he asked, but he would see a close resemblance to it:
“I get emails and letters telling me Christianity is under some new attack almost every day. What I as a pastor want to know is this. Men and women in our church are going to get up tomorrow morning, make their breakfast, pack a lunch, send their kids off to school, go to work, and come home to pay the bills, coach a soccer team, care for an aging parent. Do they need me to defend the faith against secularism in Washington, or do they need help trusting God with what they’re dealing with at home? Do they need me to preach on philosophy and apologetics—which hardly anyone cares about—or do they need help someone to help them walk with Christ through the day?”
I appreciate questions like this. Part of my job is to help connect worldview ministries with churches, and nobody is more crucial to that process than pastors. I have gathered several meetings of worldview ministry specialists and pastors, and I introduce these meetings this way. “We’re here as a group of people in ministry, to take the opportunity to hear from some experts. Pastors, you are the experts. We need your wisdom on how to be more effective with what we do, for the sake of the people you minister to.” I admit I enjoy watching heads snap in surprise when I single out pastors as the experts. I really mean it, though: nobody knows churches better than pastors.
So when a pastor asks me, what difference is this really going to make?, I take it seriously. Here’s my answer.
First, some context with respect to roles in ministry. Pastors are generalists, they are uncommonly busy people, and their focus is properly on local ministry. Many if them take part in world mission outreach, but typically that is in the form of local ministry carried out somewhere else. Worldview and apologetics ministries like BreakPoint, Ravi Zacharias, and Stand to Reason, in contrast, are specialists in the field of ideas (generally speaking), but their attention is on broader and more long-term currents affecting our world.
So the question my friend asked could be restated, what do the broad-scale and long-term currents of thought have to do with local and immediate needs? Plenty, and it flows in both directions. The church is victim to broad cultural currents of relativism, scientific naturalism (roughly, the belief that science has ruled out all supernatural or spiritual reality), consumeristic materialism, the sexual revolution (both hetero- and homo-), and an overall culture-wide disrespect for theologically and spiritually founded thinking.
I chose that word “victim” advisedly. We’ve been like boaters trying to make it home in a dark storm, feeling okay about our progress through the wind and waves, only to be run over by an ocean liner: the onslaught of non-biblical and anti-biblical thinking to which we are subjected. The greatest casualties are among our children, who don’t know how to navigate the waters; our families, which are being torn apart; and our unbelieving neighbors who may never hear that Christianity really does have credible, satisfying answers.
Churches must respond by taking up both a defensive and offensive posture. Defensively, we must put an apologetic guard around our teaching of the truth. It’s not enough to proclaim what the Bible says; we must also explain why what it says is true, and why culturally current views to the contrary don’t change that truth. “Because the Bible says so” is true and sufficient only for those who have never encountered any doubts. Most of us—especially students!—need something like this: “Because it is the truth of the true God, and this is how we can be confident that it is the truth of God, in spite of some question x you’ve probably encountered.”
We need to stand up with a positive, offensive strategy against these very cultural currents, too. We need to lead, not just be buffeted about. Pastors need to see themselves today the way they commonly used to be viewed: as leaders in their communities, intellectually, morally, socially, charitably, compassionately. In this day that leadership may have to be from behind the scenes, for example identifying existing community leaders in our churches and equipping them to lead spiritually in their sphere of influence. I don’t mean just holding Bible studies, by the way, but leading in all ways from a foundational knowledge of God’s view of work, leisure, education, government, the arts, ideas, and so on.
We’ve got years of work to do on this. We can be realistic and admit that short-term results will be minimal. Church history tells us, though, that long-term results can define an entire culture. (There’s another piece of that culture change I haven’t gotten into here: leading in sacrificial love within our communities. This too is crucial.) I am persuaded that these are the kinds of things the church must do to recover high ground we have held, but from which we have fallen.
Pastors are too busy already. Is this really important enough for them to add it to their schedules? Church programs are full enough as it is, so even if there’s someone else in the body who can teach on these things, it’s still hard to fit it in. Yet I think it’s essential, for reasons I just stated, and more besides. Pastors and lay people, what do you think?